Friday, April 24, 2009

Farmed + Foraged: A weekend of spring flavors May 15 - 17, 2009

Call the restaurants for menu, date, time & price info, each has created a unique event:

Participating restaurants’ contact information:

allium restaurant + bar, Great Barrington – 413.528.2118

Barrington Brewery, Great Barrington – 413.528.8282

Café Adam, Great Barrington – 413.528.7786

Café Latino at MASS MoCA, North Adams – 413.662.2004

Castle Street Café, Great Barrington – 413.528.5244

EnlightenNext, Lenox – 413.637.6000

Gramercy Bistro, North Adams – 413.663.5300

Inn at Sweet Water Farm, North Egremont – 413.528.2882

John Andrews Restaurant, Egremont – 413.528.3469

Mezze Bistro + Bar, Williamstown – 413.458.0123

The Old Inn on the Green, New Marlboro – 413.229.7924

Pearl’s Restaurant, Great Barrington – 413.528.7767

Pittsfield Brew Works, Pittsfield – 413.997.3506

The Point at Thornewood Inn, Great Barrington – 413.528.3828

The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge – 413.298.5545

Route 7 Grill, Great Barrington – 413.528.3235

Stage Coach Tavern, Sheffield – 413.229.8585

The Williamsville Inn – 413.274.6118


Russ Cohen said...

It's great to see a burgeoning interest in gathering and eating wild foods in the Berkshires, as evidenced from this event. I wanted to share I concern I have, though, about one kind of foraging.

My concern has to do with the adverse impacts of digging up ramps from the wild, fueled in large part by their increasing popularity with high-profile chefs. As you (may) know, ramps (a.k.a., wild leeks, Allium tricoccum) is a wild plant species native to the eastern U.S. and southern Canada. While country people (particularly in the southern Appalachians) have gathered ramps for their own use for many years without depleting the plant populations, the species’ burgeoning cachet among chefs and foodies is resulting in commercial over-harvesting (i.e., conversion of the plants to cash) and the depletion of and damage to ramp patches and the wild habitat they are collected from (see, e.g., Due to commercial over-harvesting, ramps are now an endangered species in Quebec and Ontario and it is now illegal to harvest them for commercial purposes in those provinces (see ).

I myself have noticed in the Berkshires in recent years a disturbing trend of depleted patches of ramp plants, and associated aesthetic and ecological damage. I have seen places where ramp diggers have uprooted entire patches of plants, leaving only bare soil in their wake. Not only are these dug-up areas an eyesore for spring woodland wildflower enthusiasts and other lovers of the forest to come across, the bare soil created by the ramp digging creates an ideal opportunity for invasive species to gain a toe-hold in the forest, proliferate and eventually crowd out all the native forest floor species (including the wild leeks). One of these invasive species, Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), not only usurps habitat from native plant species from the forest floor, its roots release anti-fungal chemicals that inhibit the growth of fungi (like morels and oyster mushrooms) and the trees they have a beneficial mycorhyzzal relationship with (like Sugar maples). I have unfortunately seen evidence of this first-hand on a once-pristine wooded hillside in Lenox, where, several years ago while looking for (and finding some) morels, I ran into an employee of a specialty produce store digging up ramps and leaving patches of bare ground. I visited that same spot again this spring, and Garlic Mustard is now growing throughout that forested hillside, and the number of morels I spotted there has declined more than 75% from previous years.

I would like to offer a potential solution to this problem that would enable ramps to be sustainably harvested in the wild without adverse impacts to the forest beauty or ecology. Ramps are commonly gathered from the wild in the spring by the harvesters digging up the entire plant (and others in the patch), thereby terminating the continued existence of those plants in the forest. This unsustainable harvesting method depletes ramp populations and causes aesthetic and ecological damage to the forest. Here’s my suggested alternative: encourage ramp harvesters, and the chefs and other people who buy from them, to confine their ramp harvesting and usage primarily (if not exclusively) to the plants’ leaves, and leave most (if not all) of the bulbs in the ground (with at least one leaf attached) so the plants can continue to thrive in the wild. As you (may) know, each ramp/wild leek plant in the spring (when most harvesting occurs) consists of two or three large leaves, attached to a small bulb. Also, as you know, the leaves are delicious on their own, with a marvelous flavor and texture. Ramp leaves alone can be used fresh or cooked in a wide variety of recipes, and (I hope you agree) would be worth using and eating even if the bulb were not attached to them. It is not necessary to dig up a ramp plant to harvest and eat it. If everyone gathering ramps would confine their harvesting to mostly (if not entirely) just the leaves, leaving most (if not all) ramp bulbs in the ground with at least one leaf attached, this more sustainable harvesting method will help ensure that ramp patches won’t be depleted and the forest floor won’t be unnecessarily disturbed.

If you agree (and I hope you do) that foragers + restaurants could successfully cope with just using ramp leaves and not the bulbs, then I would like to encourage you to consider insisting upon this more sustainable harvesting method for any ramps gather on your own or obtain from others.

Thanks for considering this suggestion.

-- Russ Cohen

Lawrence Davis-Hollander said...

This was precisely what I was going to post, though Russ said it with more detail and precision than I would or could have.

I am very surprised to see Berkshire Grown pushing this idea so "rampantly" and in my assessment continues to show the disconnection between nature and human endeavors, between the natural world and the consequences of our actions.

If conservation is a principle we live by, and certainly I think this is (I hope it is) paramount to the modern locavore food movement, then it is critical that the organizations leading this movement take the leadership role in thinking through these issues before they themselves become the promoters of the very actions we seek to wean our society away from.

Clearly Russ is better informed than me and even the over harvesting of leaves could be a problem if unmitigated. I think his basic ideas are excellent and I don't kow what amount of foliage is required to promote a healthy population.

I would suggest the (very) limited cultivation of ramps in select forest soils, using a small per centage of bulbs as starter seed stock. There are no reasons our forests cannot be sources of food with the advent a very carefully constructed and monitored program .

This could be done in concert with some practicing field ecologists (not rusty botanists like me) from Trustees or TNC.

I believe there are some conservation studies which give indications of the results of harvesting wild plants, how much is too much etc.

Whatever the ideal solution for this I think BG should take a lead in promoting this for next year AND create some kind of educational piece that is given to every patron at every restaurant during this promotion, this year.

Lawrence Davis-Hollander